I first got to know Julie ten years ago, when we worked together setting up a charter school in Houston to serve New Orleans students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Not only is Julie a successful teacher and school leader, but she’s also someone who cares deeply about equity issues in our public schools.
Julie wrote the following thoughts in the comments section of my recent post on opposition to the new funding formula for New Orleans public schools and I thought they were worth sharing. Special thanks to Julie for bringing her perspective to the debate.
Let’s put it another way. All the money that goes to New Orleans students is one big pile of money. Lusher students (and all OPSB students) have been getting more than their fair share of that pile, and now there is a movement to make it more fair so that all kids in New Orleans, regardless of where they go to school, get the same amount of funding to educate them.
Last year, Lusher built its budget on $8578 per student.
Last year, RSD schools built their budget on $7300 per student.
RSD schools receive additional funding for each student if they have special needs and services must be provided. For example, if a student needs speech services, the school receives an additional $1400. If a student is autistic and needs a one-on-one paraprofessional, the school receives an additional $23,000. This formula was agreed upon and put into place by the RSD leadership to respond to student needs at the school level. OPSB does not divvy up the special education money it receives from the federal government this way. The money does not follow the student.
In the new formula, the base for all children would be the same throughout the city, and the special education money would follow the student. This means that regular education students, those without disabilities, would all get the same amount of funding. However, Lusher and OPSB schools have far fewer special education students, which means they would get less special education money overall. Right now, Lusher has fewer than 5% of its students who need special services. My school has 19% needing services. A full third of my staff is dedicated to those students, and those services (which are federally mandated) cost money.
This isn’t about taking money from one set of schools (the “high performers” like Lusher) and giving it to those of us in the “historically failing and mismanaged schools.” This is about Lusher and OPSB schools resisting a funding change that funds each New Orleans child’s education at the same amount.
Lusher is arguing that Lusher students, by virtue of being selected to attend Lusher, deserve MORE of their fair share than other New Orleans students. Of course, Lusher will say that they need these funds to deliver the high-quality education, art, and sports programs. But I think we all agree that EVERY child in New Orleans deserves a high quality experience at school. Should Lusher students get smaller class sizes? Higher paid teachers? Higher-quality art facilities? More field trips? Because that’s what $1200 more per child buys them. It’s one thing to create an enclave of privilege because it selects for academic achievement. It’s a whole other thing to then say that these students deserve more than other students.
And let’s look at the results of giving the dozen OPSB schools more money per child than the 75 RSD schools. Lusher has 18 million dollars in an endowment. That means that they have extra money each year that they can put into savings, and that extra money earns $340,000 in interest each year that Lusher uses as revenue. I spend that same amount ($400,000) to provide transportation to the children in my school each day, a practice that Lusher chooses not to engage in. And unless Lusher has 260 staff members, they are spending WAY more than the typical RSD school on staff salaries.
If we as a city agree that Lusher students deserve more because they are academically higher achieving, then we should at least be transparent about it. Instead of having an unequal funding structure, we should create a “special kids deserve more” fund and allocate it from the big pile of money that all New Orleans students share. But until we as a city agree that certain kids deserve more because they belong to a certain school, then we should fund all kids equally.